RIP, Gene

I found out this week that Gene Stoltzfus (former director of the Christian Peacemaker Teams) passed away last Wednesday. He had a heart attack while riding his bike near International Falls, Minnesota.

Rather than fumble for the right words to reflect on the life work of this humble and amazing man, I refer to the article which was recently posted on the CPT website (big ups to the Jesus Manifesto website for putting me onto this):

Gene Stoltzfus (1940-2010) was the Director of the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) from its founding in 1988 until 2004.

Gene traveled to Iraq immediately before the first Gulf War in 1991 and spent time with the Iraq CPT Team in 2003 to facilitate consultation with Muslim and Christian clerics, Iraqi human rights leaders, families of Iraqi detainees and talking with American administrators and soldiers. The Team’s work contributed to the disclosures around Abu Ghraib that gave impetus to the still tentative, worldwide movement for military forces to attend to the rights and protection of civilians.

From mid-December 2001 to mid-January 2002, Gene and current CPT Co-Director, Doug Pritchard, were in Pakistan and Afghanistan listening to the victims of bombing and observing the effects of 23 years of violence — much of it fed by forces from outside Afghanistan. “Where have you been all these years?” asked an Afghan leader who articulated the voices of others around the globe.

Gene’s commitment to peacemaking was rooted in his Christian faith and experience in Vietnam as a conscientious objector with International Voluntary Services during the US military escalation (1963-68). He recalled watching the helicopters personnel unload their cargo of bloodied bodies. This experience set him “on the search to make sense of life and death where the terms of survival, meaning and culture approve and even train for killing.” Gene had to ask himself: Was I willing to die for my conviction of enemy loving just as Vietnamese and American soldiers all around me were being asked to give their lives in order to achieve peace and security?

In the early 1970’s Stoltzfus directed a domestic Mennonite Voluntary Service program with a view to engaging with the social justice and peacemaking needs of that day and recognized then the enormous importance of local, disciplined, trained community and congregationally based peacemaking efforts. In the late 1970’s, he and his wife co-directed the Mennonite Central Committee program in the Philippines during President Marcos’ martial law era focusing it on human rights and economic justice; and then they went on to help establish Synapses, a grassroots international peace and justice organization in Chicago to connect the United States and people in the developing world.

Gene Stoltzfus grew up in Aurora, then a rural town in Northeast Ohio where his parents gave leadership in a Mennonite Church and his father was the pastor. He graduated in Sociology from Goshen College in Indiana and held an M.A. in South and Southeast Asian Studies from American University (Washington D. C.) and a Master of Divinity from Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries in Elkhart, Indiana.

He was married to Dorothy Friesen of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. They lived in Chicago for 25 years until his retirement to Fort Frances, Ontario, Canada. After retiring from CPT, he traveled widely to speaking engagements, blogged regularly at Peace Probe at http://peaceprobe.wordpress.com/ and made twig furniture and jewelry as a contribution to the greening world.

Gene passed away on March 10, 2010.

Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) arose from a call in 1984 for Christians to devote the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war. To find out more, check out their website here.

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~ by humblemonkey on March 17, 2010.

One Response to “RIP, Gene”

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